The Forest Café is namely run by volunteers as a charitable, not for profit social and art space. As you can see from the sign, many free events are held here including workshops, film screenings, poetry readings and band music. For those of you know Edinburgh a little, the Forest is not far from the National Museum of Scotland. Also because of its close proximity to the red doors of the Bedlam Theatre and Edinburgh University, it should not be a surprise to note that the characters that frequent here border on arty - hip-grungy - hippy -Bohemian - shabby chic - punk - Goth - Anarchic types. For some this will be a place of euphoric idealism; and for others it may be their idea of hell. As a person who has pretty much been an outsider (not fitting in) most of my life, I have always been open-minded and appreciated our worldly diversity. So if you are set in your ways and see things simply in black and white (no shades in between), then this place is probably not for you as you may see some things that may raise your eyebrow, upset or even offend you and I know this is not the intention of this space. It is supposed to be a safe place for some, to allow people to be themselves without fear of reprisals.
On entering, other than absorbing the colourful outfits of the characters who definitely want to be seen, you will also notice how shabby and dark the place is. The windows could do with little sprucing to let the natural light in. As you sit down, you take see the unusual, quirky murals and artworks on the walls and the ceilings.
Then you notice the recycled furniture. This particular table has been given a new lease of life with decoupage and a lick of vanish. There are also some sunken sofas in the corner occupied in true 'friend’s' style by some young studenty girls absorbed in deep conversation and drinking fair-trade coffee. Behind them some stacks of old books and games in dog eared boxes. In another corner, there was a lad in Buddy Holly style surfing the net, and sitting just behind us there was a Boho-grunge mama having tea with friends while her little one in a stroller played on - everyone seemed kind of chilled and lost in their own world.
The reason I came across the Forest Café is that I wanted to eat somewhere affordable and somewhere that caters for people who like their vegetables. Whenever we come into Edinburgh, we either end up eating on the hoof or going to the Kitchen Mosque. D likes the Kitchen Mosque for quantity, quality and value for money, but I wanted a change from it. Of course I know of more famous vegetarian establishments in Edinburgh, but wanted something different and simple, rather than elegant food.
If I’m honest, other than the salad, the Forest Café menu is not vegetable based really, no seasonal offerings. However, there was plenty of vegetarian choice with vegan options such as burrito, nacho’s, falafel, pitta bread and hummus, Mexican style beans, rice, soup, plate of salad and salsas. There was also a selection of sweet vegan nibbles too. You can't read it here, but at the top of the menu it reads 'Hey! all staff are volunteers so play nice, tip heavy and clear your own dishes away. Sometimes we don't speak English and sometimes we put peanuts in everything just because we can, so be careful, ok? We many not like you, but we don't want to kill you. We believe in slow food so take a deep yogic breath and go read a book. We'll call you when it’s ready'. By slow food, its not slow food in the Carlo Petrini tradition, but more in the order to table - service sense, but you have to forgive them and be patient, this is a voluntary and charitable establishment after all. They are not set up to make a profit and if you come here regularly, it’s not necessarily for the food but the vibe of the place.
For grub, I had the falafel burger aka the ‘balls of joy’ and D had the biggest mound of cheesy Nacho's (aka The Nicholas Cage) that I have ever seen. After eating my falafel, I greedily helped him make a dent in his nacho mountain. Its not restaurant style food, but it certainly is hearty and reasonably priced.
I highly praise the Forest Café for being alternative in the same vain as Tchai Ovna and the Pakistani Café in Glasgow. It is a great place to make people feel welcome, (especially if you are new to Edinburgh or a student away from home for the first time). I applaud the volunteers (past and present) for their time in making the place the success that it is. If I was part of this crowd, free spirited, in a certain age bracket; or an Edinburgh student, it would perhaps be a place I frequent more often. However, now being my own person, moving on in my life and enjoying my own space, places like this seem like a distant world to me. Still it is good to remember and support them.
Oh downstairs there are separate toilets for men and women, but these toilets are also unisex. This should not be that shocking to those of you who are well travelled. When I went to France, I noted many of the toilets there were unisex. That is the way it just was. But I should warn you there has been plenty of criticism regarding the conditions of the toilets being unclean, but I honestly can't comment as I did not use them. I just admired the artwork.